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Hearing on Oak Forest Hospital

Another hearing on Cook County’s proposal to close Oak Forest Hospital takes place Monday, and patients, staff and community residents are expected to testify against the plan.

A hearing of the Illinois Health Facilities and Services Review Board takes place Monday, April 18, 10 a.m. at Bremen Township Hall, 15350 Oak Park Avenue in Oak Forest.

“We’re very concerned that the county is rushing to close it down without a better plan for the transition,” said Carol O’Neill, a former Oak Forest staffer. “There are a lot of unanswered questions.”

“The issue is that there needs to be a safety net” to provide care for the uninsured and underinsured — “so folks aren’t dying in the streets,” said John Gaudette of Citizen Action Illinois.

Last month the health facilities board voted against the county plan after a report from the Illinois Department of Public Health said the proposed closing would worsen the shortage of intensive care and long term care beds in the area.

The board is expected to reconsider the matter in May. Several vacant seats on the board may be filled by then.

The Cook County Health and Hospital System has proposed eliminating emergency, surgical and inpatient services at Oak Forest and turning it into an outpatient acute care facility. The plan is projected to save $25 million a year. The emergency room would become an urgent care clinic, open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.

“We have clinics” in the south suburbs, said Lee Mayberry, a longtime patient at Oak Forest. “What we need is a hospital.”

O’Neil expressed concern over increased risks for long-term care patients who might be moved to nursing homes.

Mayberry said a number of long-term care patients died within months after being moved to nursing homes when the county tried to close the unit in 2007.

He had high praise for the staff of Oak Forest.

The facilities board also cited vagueness over the county’s timeline for opening the proposed outpatient facility.

King Day boycott backs warehouse workers

Local clergy will announce a boycott in support of Will County warehouse workers at a press conference on Martin Luther King Day.

“Dr. King called for workers to have decent wages, fair working conditions, and respect,” said Rev. Craig Purchase of Mt. Zion Tabernacle in Joliet.  “How can we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King without addressing the injustice that exists in our backyard?”

The press conference takes place at Sacred Heart Parish, 337 S. Ottawa in Joliet, on Monday, January 18, at 2 p.m.

Clergy will call for a boycott of Bissell Co., best known for its vacuum cleaners.  They charge that Bissell, its warehouse management company, and a temporary agency which provides staffing have violated minimum wage standards and laws prohibiting racial discimination and retaliation for labor organizing.

Seventy warehouse workers were fired in November after they presented a letter protesting unfair practices and demanding union recognition, In These Times reported in December.

They are working with Warehouse Workers for Justice, a new organization in the bringing together workers in the booming warehouse industry around the national transportation hub southwest of Chicago.

“This is the new economy replacing manufacturing because things aren’t being made here, but instead are being shipped here,” an organizer told In These Times. “These are potentially good jobs, but they have been converted to ‘perma-temp’ jobs at the minimum wage, with no prospect of a raise. This is the dark underbelly of how products get to our stores.”

[The name of Warehouse Workers for Justice was given incorrectly in an earlier version of this post.]

South suburbs push state for jobs, transit

Hundreds of south suburban residents are expected at a hearing on state capital priorities tonight, where religious and community leaders will call for stepped up transit funding as well as funding for job training to ensure that economically shut-out communities are included. 

Transit funding in Governor Quinn’s proposed capital budget is insufficient just to maintain existing infrastructure, they argue — and additional funding is needed to allow the state to compete for federal funds to expand the transit system (like a long-deferred Red Line expansion) in order to connect communities with high unemployment with jobs.

Gamaliel of Metro ChicagoSouth Suburban Action Conference, and Pilsen Neighbors are organizing the hearing with state senators and representatives from the area, Monday, May 11, 7 p.m. at St. Victor Catholic Church, 535 Hirsch, Calumet City.

Helping Katrina Victims, Facing Cuts

Even as they ramp up efforts to help hurricane victims move beyond survival needs, Cook County anti-poverty agencies are looking at drastic cuts in their federal funding.

Community action agencies coordinated by the Community Economic Development Association in suburban Cook County are uniquely positioned to help victims as they begin to reestablish their lives, offering a range of services including case management, transitional and affordable housing, job training and placement, health and nutrition programs, childcare and senior care, and small business assistance.

Working with evacuees in state shelters in Tinley Park, Madden, and Maywood, CEDA began a $100,000 fund to help people with necessities beyond the food and clothing offered by emergency services — things like toiletries, medicine, and school supplies, said Mark Enenbach of CEDA Cook County.

They’re also providing food vouchers to families sheltering Gulf evacuees in their homes, he said.

As evacuees seek to move beyond shelters and make decisions about their future, FEMA, the Red Cross, and state agencies are increasingly looking to CEDA to “take the ball and run with it,” Enenbach said. “We’re trying to fill in gaps and find some longer-term solutions for these people….We’re going to be involved for the long haul with an awful lot of these families.”

Meanwhile they’re planning for a 50 percent cut in the Community Services Block Grant which the U.S. House passed this spring. If not rescinded in a budget reconciliation process that has been postponed since Hurricane Katrina, the cut will go into effect at the end of the year.

“It would be devastating; it would mean closing centers and laying off staff,” Enenbach said. “This is exactly the wrong time for that kind of thing.”

South Cook Underground Railroad History Promoted

South Cook County residents are developing plans for an educational center to highlight the history of the Underground Railroad in the region.

The Chicago/Calumet Underground Railroad Effort has met with city officials to discuss a proposal to develop the old Jon Ton farm, on the Calumet River near 134th and Drexel, as an educational facility, and to place markers at other sites.

Ton was a Dutch immigrant who, in the days of Illinois’s notorious Black Codes, hid escaped slaves and helped ferry them toward Michigan and Canada.

The Underground Railroad “is an important part of history,” said Peggy Montes of C/CURE. “It’s the story of people who wanted to be free, and of people — black and white — who helped them achieve freedom. To me, it’s a beautiful, inspiring story.”

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